The rallying call for introverts started by Susan Cain and her Quiet Revolution movement has pulled back the wizard’s curtain on some ingrained structures in the business world. Turns out, a lot more people identify as introverts than originally thought (several studies show one-third to one-half of the U.S. population) and many of the ways we organize and operate professionally are unconsciously designed for extroverts.
A common misconception is that introverts are socially awkward outcasts who would prefer to live in some remote hut with only a macaw for companionship. Introverts actually value connection and relationships as much as anyone, but simply thrive in smaller groups and quieter environments. By extension, networking for introverts doesn’t have to be difficult or dreadful – it just needs to be different.
Here are three creative tips on how to network as an introvert:
1. Start Virtual
Engaging in small talk with strangers at a networking party can be very draining for introverts, so making connections via emails or online groups can be more comfortable and successful to begin with. This also gives introverts the space and time to craft exactly what they want to communicate, which is important. Ideas include emailing an interesting news article to a potential investor, mailing a handwritten note to a prospect, or sending a video resume to a hiring manager. Using virtual channels allows introverts to showcase their creativity and personality within a “controlled” environment.
2. Stay Small
Another tip in an introvert’s guide to networking is to stay within smaller, business-focused groups. The giant meet-and-mingles or loud happy hours at conferences won’t be environments that an introvert will enjoy for much more than an hour or two (if at all). Choose situations that will have fewer people and more of a focus on professional development versus socializing, such as a local business leader meeting, developer hack-a-thon, mentorship program, or Lean In Circle.
3. Use Distractions
Networking tips for shy people can be as simple as “avoid the center of attention.” Many introverts describe themselves as observers, so making introductions and small talk can feel like there’s an unrelenting bright spotlight following them around. One way to dull that spotlight and maintain energy when networking is to look for distractions. Is there entertainment at the event? Stake out a position nearby so conversations can evolve naturally around the band, the acrobats, or whatever else is on display. Distractions can also be people. Buddy up with someone who is more extroverted and use them as your wingman for the event. Whatever the situation, introverts should look for things in the immediate environment that will help them feel less pressure to carry conversations.
The most important rule in networking for introverts is to remember to recharge. The entire experience of networking will be more positive when time is reserved afterward to get some peace and quiet, and think about next steps – like following up with any contacts made.